Retro Television

So what do you think about nostalgia then? hey, I was born ages ago, I know all about it. That’s the problem with being old, everything that you accepted as normal is now considered as antique or out of date. Take for instance television in South Africa.

We only got TV in the heady days of the 70’s, the official first day of broadcast was on 5 January 1976. We had been watching short test transmissions since May the previous year, mostly in shop windows, because very few people took the risk of buying a television set until they were absolutely sure that the SABC and the National Party wasn’t going to change their minds,  or be influenced by the verkramptes in the censorship board.  Yes, it is true, we did all gather in front of the shop windows to gawk at the goggle box in amazement.

And woe betide any shop which did not turn up the volume so that we could hear what was being said!  I recall seeing episodes of the “The Bennie Hill Show” and “Musik Laden” (A German music programme) while sitting on bus stop bench outside the Russels furniture store in Mayfair. We did not think it strange at the time, because we were not the only ones who did it.

OK, so just before the big switch on day arrived my family purchased a TV, it was a 61 cm Telefunken black and white set which we paid the unearthly sum of about R350-00 for. (Payable over 24 months on HP, which meant we paid about R50000-00 for it after having stamp charges, insurance, duty, HP charges, interest and delivery included). Colour TV’s were out of our budget range, the Rolls Royce of TV’s being the Sony cabinet model which I seem to recall cost about R700-00.  A very nice young chap installed an aerial for us (complete with earth spike too) and when the big day arrived we were there waiting for TV to start.

Sony TV (cabinet model)

Sony TV (cabinet model)

Sony TV Print ad

Sony TV Print Ad

Telefunken B/W Portable TV

Telefunken B/W Portable

Remember that opening logo? how do you describe it? some people said it resembled a toilet bowl, make your own decision on that one. I do know it had the colours of the national flag on it accompanied by an impressively boring signature tune. I only saw it years later in colour so I could be pulling your leg.

Anyway, here the 4 of us sat staring at the idiot box. Amongst the stuff we saw in those early days has long slipped out of my mind, but most people will recall “Haas Das se Nuuskas” which featured the voice of Riaan Cruywagen (soon to be stalwart newsreader) and his sidekick Piet Muis. Oh, I forgot to tell you, there were only 37,5 hours of TV per week and each evening the broadcast was half English and half Afrikaans, alternating each day. On Tuesdays the award winning documentary by Jeremy Isaacs “The World At War” was shown. This stunning series was preceded by a local documentary “Ons Argitektoniese Erfenis” which would not have won an award even if it was the only TV programme available. We still had much to learn in South Africa about TV, the Equity ban on South Africa meant that we were denied all of the good BBC material available. Strict government censorship meant that we were denied anything even vaguely considered risqué, and our news bulletins would have a pro National Party slant to them.

1970's 67 cm Colour TV (Possible a Blaupunkt)

1970’s 67 cm Colour TV (Possible a Blaupunkt)

It took quite a long time before our first TV advert was shown, the winner being for “Big T Beef Burgers”. Our first American soap/drama was “Rich Man Poor Man”, the country ground to a halt when it was on and we all hated Falconetti with a passion. “Dallas” was still in the future and we never even realised that somebody would shoot JR and that Pamela had such long drawn out dreams.

Our local series were a mixed batch; “Willem”, “Doktor Doktor” and “The Villagers” were amongst the first ones made in this country. They were amateurish in their concept and the stories were often full of holes and improbabilities. However, the Afrikaans dramas were always better than the English ones and we were all avid fans of them. Many of the kiddies programmes ran for years, “Wiellie Wallie” with Bennie Boekwurm seeing to have survived the many axes which fell over the years..

A whole new crowd of people came into our living rooms too, Michael De Morgan, Heinrich Marnitz, Dorianne Berry, Nigel Kane, Betty Kemp, and a few old faces from Springbok Radio made the transition to acting too.

Pop music on TV was rare, but eventually they flighted “Pop Shop” to try placate the hordes of clamouring teens but it was a pathetic attempt, only 20 minutes long with at least 5 of that being the logo music. Alas, we would have to rely on the radio for our musical interludes, but that’s another story. 

Thunderbirds aka "Redding Internasionaal"

Thunderbirds aka “Redding Internasionaal”

Much of the best stuff which was available from the BBC was dubbed into Afrikaans. Programmes like “Thunderbirds” (“Redding Internasionaal”), “Space 1999” (“Alpha 1999”), “Sweeney Todd” (“Blitspatrolie”) and numerous others all suffered the hand of the SABC’s dubbing department. The biggest joke was when “Rupert the Bear” was dubbed into English, although it was already in English when they bought it!

Daily Schedule TV1, 26/06/78-02/07/78 (1500x583)

Daily Schedule TV1, 26/06/78-02/07/78 (1500 x 583)

When Bophuthatswana became an “Independent state” they launched their own TV station called “BOP-TV”  in 1984, and it was so much better than the boring old SABC that we were watching. Launched on UHF it could be watched if you installed a UHF antenna and were in the overflow area. That included Mayfair and parts of Johannesburg. The government was not amused and the signal was altered as much as possible to exclude everywhere but Bophuthatswana and Soweto. BOP-TV was a revelation because it really showed what a small operation was capable of. The SABC shut it down in 2003. 

It is now many years later and I have seen so much mediocre and bad TV that it all seems to blend into nothingness. Strange, there is a whole generation that has not known how it was before TV came to this country. Watching reruns of shows like “Night Rider” or “The A-Team” makes me wonder how starved we must have been for entertainment. “The World at War” has been back on TV at least 5 times since 1976 and I still enjoy it today. TV in South Africa today still has a ruling party slant to it and the only difference is that the programmes are a different class of drivel, and there are 4 free channels to watch instead of 1. We also have the monopoly that is DSTV with its monopoly on repeats and newcomer to the scene TopTV who started out in 2010. I last watched South African TV in 2004, and even now do not even watch the BBC; I still prefer a good book.

DRW © 2003-2020. Schedule from Family Radio and TV Magazine June26-July2, 1978. Updated 17/05/2010. Moved to blog 13/09/2014